SPORTS: Special Peoples Fishing Derby likely the last

PORT ANGELES — It never really mattered what anglers hooked at the Frank Wilkerson Memorial Special Peoples Fishing Derby.

Be it a fish, tin can or wheel hub, it was going into the derby ladder, per Frank Wilkerson’s wishes.

“We’d weigh anything,” said Beth Wilkerson, widow of the late derby organizer for which it is named.

“We’d clean up [Port Angeles] Harbor.”

Of course, the Special Peoples Derby did a whole lot more than that during its long run on the North Olympic Peninsula.

For one day each of the past 44 years, derby volunteers and organizers also helped put smiles on the faces of dozens of handicapped anglers.

It’s a run that likely came to an end Saturday.

With organizers struggling to round up enough volunteer boaters during the past few years, Beth Wilkerson decided this would be the final year for the derby.

Thus, the participants and volunteers gathered at the Port Angeles Yacht Club on Saturday morning for “an end of an era celebration.”

“It’s very emotional to me,” said Wilkerson. “It’s been kind of a bittersweet day for me because of the fact that it was my husband’s memorial.

“Both of us were very much into it, helping the handicapped.

“The joy that it brought to them, it was rewarding . . . to see the smiles it put on their faces.”

Those grins were still there Saturday, as prizes were raffled off and lunch served to 43 in attendance.

In years past, prizes were awarded to the biggest fish caught by a male and female before going down the line from biggest to smallest fish caught.

During the event’s heyday, more than 100 handicapped anglers would make it out on the water.

“It was almost like a big salmon derby when you looked out on the water,” said Wilkerson, who was involved when the Peninsula Pacers began the derby in 1966. “That’s when we had very good participation from boat owners.”

Frank Wilkerson passed away in 2004, and the derby was renamed in his honor a year later.

Yet organizers began having more and more trouble finding boat owners to volunteer their time and vehicles. Donations for prizes also became increasingly harder to come by.

Going into Saturday’s event, only three boaters made commitments.

That wasn’t near enough to get all the participants on the water.

“Tough times hit a necessary resource,” said volunteer Steve Yale of Port Angeles.

If someone is willing to take the mantle, the event can still be saved, Beth Wilkerson said. The derby’s non-profit status will be maintained, it’s just a matter of someone else picking it up.

Said Yale, “They just kind of wound it up and put it away for a while.”

To contact Beth Wilkerson, phone 360-461-6090.

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